Communication is central to healthcare. Through communication health information is shared between health professionals and patients and between health professionals themselves. Communication is at the basis of patient education and health campaigns aimed at supporting consumers’ decision-making on health issues. Last but not least, communication among stakeholders is a main factor for successful knowledge translation – i.e., for the application of research findings to inform and ameliorate healthcare policies and practices.
Human beings communicate naturally. Effective communication, however, is a matter of knowledge, skills and strategies. Thus, health communication as a scientific discipline focuses on: how to successfully interact in interpersonal health communication; how to design, implement and evaluate appropriate programs of patient and consumer education; and how to engage in interdisciplinary communication for the implementation of integrated care.
Health provider - patient communication
Health provider-patient communication is essential to identify and understand the patient perspective, i.e., their beliefs, emotions, needs and expectations. It is the process at the basis of shared decision-making – that is to say, health professionals, patients and their families reach a shared understanding of the patient problems and decide together the most appropriate course of action. Health professionals’ ability to listen, explain and engage with their patients and families can have a profound effect on biological and functional health outcomes as well as on patient satisfaction and on the experience of care.
Within this focus area we design, conduct and evaluate training courses in health communication for health professionals. We concentrate on the challenges to traditional healthcare professional-patient communication posed by the massive availability of health information, especially online. Training courses are based on theoretical models and case-study exercises on how health professionals can persuasively promote their own ideas in the context of patient autonomy and self-determination. Also, we focus on courses aimed at developing health professional communication skills for intra-team and inter-teams interaction.
Health campaigns are a type of mass communication intervention that aims at promoting awareness on topical health issues and appropriate health behavior change. The design of a health campaign goes through specific tasks that include: the identification of the objective of the campaign and the target population; the creation of a persuasive message to be delivered through appropriate channels; and the evaluation of the campaign. Health campaigns are a powerful tool to foster patient and consumer education and empower them to behavior change that promotes health and well-being.
Within this focus area, we design mass and targeted health campaigns based on the theories and models of social marketing.
Self-management and health literacy
Self-management refers to day-to-day tasks an individual must undertake to control or reduce the impact of disease on physical health status and life in general. Health literacy is «the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health» (World Health Organization, 1998). Basically, health literacy is the set of knowledge and skills that patients and consumers need to successfully engage in self-management of health and diseases.
Within this research area, we design, implement and evaluate interventions that aim at reinforcing health literacy in the context of self-management. Specifically, we work on the development of theoretical frameworks of self-management and health literacy for complex chronic health conditions and disease prevention. Moreover, we work on the design, testing and evaluation of interventions to enhance health literacy and self-management through technologies – in particular, consumer-oriented and interactive websites as well as mHealth («Apps»).
Communication for policy-making in healthcare
Bridging between research, policy and practice is not a linear process. It is not just the scientific content to be translated in policies that matters. The actual translation of evidence is highly impacted by the actors involved (the stakeholders), what they think and believe, and by their attitudes, the processes of implementation, and the contexts at the macro-government and micro-institutional level. Moreover, the production and dissemination of large amounts of scientific healthcare information makes it difficult to adequately identify and retrieve which evidence matters for a specific context.
Within this focus area we research on the communication process behind the stakeholder dialogue – i.e., a structured interaction where stakeholders work collaboratively toward a common understanding and toward reaching an agreement over a solution to a proposed problem. Specifically, we have developed a methodology for conducting deliberative dialogues among stakeholders. This methodology is informed by the contents of argumentation theory.